Jul 22, 2020 | By Lisa White
May 24, 2019
Pierpaolo Piccioli is many things: a visionary, an icon, a creative director, but above all else, he’s a dreamer. The 51-year-old was born in Nettuno, a small Italian coastal town outside of Rome where he still resides with his family. “When you grow up in a place like that, that’s far from everything, you just [have to] dream,” he said while in conversation with journalist Alina Cho at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday evening. Piccioli joined Cho on stage as her 10th-ever guest of “The Atelier with Alina Cho,” an intimate conversation series featuring influential people in fashion.
In an era of transience, Piccioli is a constant, with 2019 marking his 20th year with the Roman design house. Joining in 1999 with Maria Grazia Chiuri, the pair started in the accessories department before taking co-creative reigns in 2008. After Chiuri moved on to Dior in 2016, Piccioli was tasked with continuing to push the brand forward without his longtime partner, ultimately proving his ability to dream on his own. The world took notice as his influence proved to transcend the seams of fashion – in 2019 he was named to the Time 100 list.
Interested in photography and Italian cinema throughout his entire life, Piccioli’s recent pivot to film was a natural progression. Teaming with the famed ‘Call Me By Your Name’ director Luca Guadagnino, Piccioli contributed to a new short-film which debuted at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival called “The Staggering Girl,” starring Julianne Moore (who is a friend of the brand and was clad in Valentino at the 2019 Met Gala earlier this month).
“Cinema has always been part of my culture,” said Piccioli, and this project really afforded him the room to fuze his lifelong passion with his artistry, as pieces from Valentino’s S/S 18 and F/W 18 haute couture collections danced from scene to scene throughout the film. But this was far from the first time we’ve seen the designer push the boundaries of drama. His collections have evoked emotional reactions from audiences and consistently tell new stories without straying too far from the core values of the brand.
“A director always tells different stories [while] retaining his style,” said Piccioli. “I always hope to tell different stories but [maintain] the same style.” This ability was tested when Piccioli was tapped as one of the nine creative director’s tasked with reimagining Moncler in modern context during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019, marking the third iteration of Moncler’s Genius initiative. Piccioli retained Valentino’s familiar flare with a 12-piece evening collection featuring bold floor-grazing silhouettes with dramatic full skirts and cocoon-like hoods, all done in Moncler’s signature nylon.
During the conversation, Cho turned the audience’s attention to an image from the designer’s mood board from his now iconic S/S 19 haute couture collection, which was heavily documented on social media. As the show closed, guests sprang to their feet erupting with applause while a now viral Celine Dion elegantly wiped tears from her face in the front row. The image in question dated back to 1948 and was captured by Cecil Beaton featuring a group of white women clad in Charles James couture. Images from Italian Vogue’s 2008 ‘Black Issue’ as well as photographs from Ebony and Jet Magazines shared space on the mood board. Piccioli explained how he set out to create an inclusive modern couture collection that flipped Beaton’s image on its head, and celebrated the beauty of diversity.
“I don’t think you have to change the clothes, you have to change the women wearing the clothes,” said Piccioli. The designer demonstrated his couture is for all, casting a show with 65 looks featuring mostly black models, including Naomi Campbell who closed the show in tears. “With this show I understood [if] you have a voice, you [have to use it],” said Piccioli.
And while Piccioli has become the face and name behind Valentino’s recent success, he’s quick to pass the praise onto his team of talented seamstresses in the Roman atelier, naming each dress in that couture collection after the women who worked on it. Piccioli views his team of talent not as “petites mains” as he says, which translates to tiny hands that help in the atelier, but rather as equals who dream just as big as he. “I don’t like people that just work with me, I like people that share with me [in] the dream.”
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